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Oct 28 2013

His observations may not be politically correct but

Dan Fincke sent me the link to an inspirational discussion on William Lane Craig’s Q and A page.

Dear Dr. Craig,

I have usually found your words to be a source of information and reassurance  in my Christian faith, and have often sought out your writings and videos in  times of doubt or questioning.

So I was really disappointed, almost shocked, when I read your newsletter of  April of this year in which you casually stereotypes men and women, and complain  that the church is becoming increasingly feminized, and has difficulties in  attracting men.

Your compared the audiences at a couple of your speaking engagements to the  audience from a clip of a Downton Abbey Q&A at another location – concluding  that they were all men at the former and almost all women at the latter “simply  because the Downton Abbey program is highly relational, which is more appealing  to women, whereas my talks were principally intellectually oriented, which is  more appealing to men.”

Wuhay! It’s dear old “it’s more of a guy thing” again. Women like fluffy stuff like relations and big huge expensive houses with expensive dresses, and men hard bony stuff like intellectual talks.

His correspondent goes on,

I believe that you are using stereotypes here, which you justify by making a  ridiculous comparison that holds zero statistical significance. Not only is your  statement unreasonable, it is potentially damaging – especially when made so  carelessly. Stereotypes are shortcuts in classifying people. They can, and often  do, limit and distort the way we perceive others and the world. Stereotypes are  a lazy way of thinking that can lead to discrimination, and their use should not  be encouraged.

So he turns red with rage and tries to stomp her into the ground, yes?

No, he’s better than that. He just talks a lot of patronizing bullshit.

My observations about the peculiar attraction that Christian apologetics has  for men involves several claims. Let’s tease these apart to see which of them  are objectionable.

First is my observation that apologetics seems to have far more interest for  men than for women. That observation is based upon an enormous amount of  experience in speaking on university campuses, at apologetics conferences, and  in classroom teaching. It is a realization that gradually and unexpectedly  forced itself upon me. It became very evident to me not only that the audiences  which came to these events were largely male but that in event after event only  the men stood up to ask a question. These facts seem to me to be undeniable.

Second is my hypothesis that this disparity is to be explained by the fact  that men respond more readily to a rational approach, whereas women tend to  respond more to relational approaches. Of course, this is just my best  suggestion, and if you’ve got a better hypothesis to explain the disparity,  Alexandra, I’m open to it. But there has to be an explanation.

Well, Bill, could part of the explanation be stereotype threat? Which you are doing your bit to re-enforce right here? Could it be that blather like that boils down to “women are kind of stupid, though in the nicest possible way” and that it makes women hesitant to open their mouths lest stupidity come tumbling out?

I think it could. I think patronizing crap like that is part of the very explanation you claim to be looking for.

Please understand that what I’m doing is not stereotyping but generalizing.  There’s a difference between a stereotype and a generalization. A generalization  admits of exceptions but remains an accurate characterization of most members of  a group. Most women do respond better to relational appeals, whereas men tend to  like the rational approach. Books on marriage improvement strongly emphasize  this difference. In her fascinating book You Just Don’t Understand: Women  and Men in Conversation, Deborah Tanner, for example, says that the way men  and women communicate is so different that when a man talks to a woman it’s a  case of cross-cultural communication!

Ah yes, generalization is obviously nothing like stereotype at all. Notice how he demonstrates that: by using the word “do” before “respond better” – that way we know it’s true. Then he makes us know it even more by saying the name of a book.

I thought at first that maybe the reason women almost never stood up to ask a  question was due the intimidation factor: they just feel less comfortable than  men getting up publicly to ask a question. That’s why the experience of seeing  the Downton Abbey panel was so intriguing to me. Though there were men in the  audience, everyone who got up and asked a question was a woman! When a man  finally stood up and asked something, this was almost a cause of celebration and  was noticed by everyone. Now obviously, this evidence is anecdotal, not  statistical, as you point out, but still this was not just accidental. What is  the explanation? Those of us who, like Jan and me, are fans of Downton Abbey  know how relational the program is, as it follows the personal lives and  struggles of those in the house. It’s striking that women didn’t feel  intimidated about getting up publicly and asking questions about very relational  matters.

What is the explanation? Here’s my hypothesis. It’s that there are no William Lane Craigs running around saying that Downton Abbey is an intellectual subject and that’s more of a guy thing.

He ends on a courageous note. That’s the guy thing coming into play again.

I doubt that what I’ve said in response to your question, Alexandra, will do  much to rebuild your faith in my words! My observations about the peculiar  attraction that Christian apologetics has for men may not be politically correct, but I believe that they are accurate, even if disappointing and  shocking to some.

His observations may not be politically correct, but he believes that they are accurate. Well that’s good enough for me, William Lane Craig!

18 comments

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  1. 1
    screechymonkey

    You stereotype, I generalize.

  2. 2
    zibble

    When you read Alexandra’s letter before Craig’s response, it seems she writes like a thoughtful, well-spoken intellectual, and he writes like a pompous ass.

    I think it’s because her purpose is arguing an idea – her goal is eloquence and clarity. His purpose is dissuading criticism and promoting himself – his goal is obfuscation and denial.

    Or maybe it’s because she’s a smart person who isn’t very respected and he’s a well-respected authority who actually isn’t very smart.

  3. 3
    theoreticalgrrrl

    “I know it’s not politically correct, but…” is quickly replacing “I’m not a racist/sexist/atheist, but…” and “hey, some of my *best friends* are _______” as the go-to excuse for stupidity and prejudice.

  4. 4
    Pliny the in Between

    I think that I can easily count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever encountered someone who simply listened to someone’s concerns and objections, then responded with, “thank you for that. I can see your point. I’ll try to do better.”

  5. 5
    Rowan

    The kind of evangelical christianity that people like Craig espouse and what their talks and seminars and such is about..I’m guessing theres also a bit of an overlap with the kind of attitudes that say women are only good at baby makin’ and house cleanin’, where pretty much any thoughts women have on “big” (or any) issues are belittled/discouraged, unless they’re already towing the line.
    So maybe the reason he’s seeing such a bias male centric audience questioners, is because his whole demographic is pretty much tilted that way in the first place?

    Nah, gotta be that women are for feeling while the menfolk can do the thinking.

  6. 6
    theoreticalgrrrl

    This might possibly have a little something to do with it:

    “Let the women keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a disgrace for a woman to speak in church.” – St. Paul 1 Corinthians 14:34

    Or this:

    “A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment.” – St. Paul 1 Timothy 2:11-15

  7. 7
    Silentbob

    Well, Bill, could part of the explanation be stereotype threat? Which you are doing your bit to re-enforce right here? Could it be that blather like that boils down to “women are kind of stupid, though in the nicest possible way” and that it makes women hesitant to open their mouths lest stupidity come tumbling out?

    Stereotype threat, yes, and also the related “chilly climate”. We know that people in groups subconsciously take cues on the appropriate way to behave from observing others in the group.

    Craig mentions that when a man asked a question at the Downton Abbey panel it was so unusual it was “noticed by everyone”. I imagine that would be self-reinforcing, whereby if it’s odd for a man to ask a question, men are going to feel more self-conscious about standing up, therefore men are going to be less likely to stand up, therefore it’s going to be considered odd for a man to ask a question, and so on. And the converse at a Craig apologetic.

  8. 8
    Silentbob

    So now I count three explanations that don’t rely on gender essentialism:

    1. Teach theology insulting to one gender, and that gender is less likely to want to turn up.
    2. Teach one gender that they don’t do thinky and they might believe you.
    3. Create a climate where a particular gender is unusual and people of that gender will feel they don’t belong.

  9. 9
    Rob

    Maybe it is “more of a guy thing”? A story….

    I remember for years visiting cousins in a small rural town in New Zealand. They were deeply involved in the local church. Every week the wives would meet to organise the following weeks activities: making meals for families that needed help, collecting clothes for charities, doing shopping and gardening for the elderly etc etc. At the same time the husbands would all meet in another room and discuss the meaning of their faith, look for significance in the number of times particular words occurred in the bible and generally slap each others backs for being good Christians.

    I remarked on this to my (female) cousin once. Her reply, “Well, women are more practical.”

    Was she right? Certainly in the application of time to expressing their faith, the women were being much more practical. Yet the men involved were farmers, mechanics, shop keepers and a teacher. Hardly the types who never have to work with reality. In fact, in day to day life intensely practical folk.

    While this is just one more anecdotal data point, my opinion is that it is yet another example of how religion reinforces sex based roles in it’s adherents. These roles then get attributed to an underlying trait inherent in the sex, rather than a socially learnt and reinforced behaviour.

  10. 10
    consciousness razor

    Your compared the audiences at a couple of your speaking engagements to the audience from a clip of a Downton Abbey Q&A at another location – concluding that they were all men at the former and almost all women at the latter “simply because the Downton Abbey program is highly relational, which is more appealing to women, whereas my talks were principally intellectually oriented, which is more appealing to men.”

    As a man who’s very “intellectually oriented” (and straight, as if that mattered, but I’m sure it would to people like Craig), it’s hard to say how much more I enjoy watching Downton Abbey than one of Craig’s shitfests. I think this might just be a case of an “actual infinite” which Craig has been looking for (without really looking): watching DA is infinitely more enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.

  11. 11
    Claire Ramsey

    “Then he makes us know it even more by saying the name of a book.”

    But it backfired b/c I doubt that Craig ever read past the cover of Tannen’s book. He does not make a convincing case with his stupid superficial comment. “Cross cultural” does not imply “assume women are stupid and treat men as intellectuals.” And naturally there are women like me who have managed to be practical and clever and friendly (part of the time anyhow) and an intellectual. And a champion kick-boxer. (Well I could have been one if I’d put my mind to it).

    I don’t know shit about art but I know what i like. . .

  12. 12
    smrnda

    Could also be self-selection effect – evangelical Christianity promotes gender essentialist ideas, so it likely will either attract people who believe in them or push people into embodying them.

    Of note – for research value I decided to attend a church and even attended their apologetics course. I found that in most mixed-gender settings, men would just dominate the conversation, would frequently interrupt women and rather than allowing women to speak, would ask women direct questions that required short answers and outside of certain ‘women’s activities’ – the whole place was clearly guy-space.

    People who are part of a subculture like that don’t realize how biased it is and take it for natural, mostly since its familiar to them. Overall, when you’re from the outside, it can seem quite unnatural.

  13. 13
    Crimson Clupeidae

    …he [WLC] writes like a pompous ass.

    Oh, good to see some things never change.

  14. 14
    latsot

    Heh, http://www.moreofaguything.com is available. I’m tempted to buy it.

  15. 15
    oursally

    At university (reading Engineering) I occasionally asked a question. Some lecturers did not see women, so we asked our male neighbours to ask for us. Those lecturers were deeply despised. And then they said, but the women never ask questions.

  16. 16
    N. Nescio

    He just talks a lot of patronizing bullshit.

    What else is new?

  17. 17
    drken

    @theoreticalgrrrl: I can’t get blockquotes to work but…

    “‘I know it’s not politically correct, but…’ is quickly replacing ‘I’m not a racist/sexist/atheist, but…’ and ‘hey, some of my *best friends* are _______’ as the go-to excuse for stupidity and prejudice.

    Well, it’s a great “improvement” over “I’m not racist/sexist/ect.” because that puts you on the defensive. You’re trying to explain a racist statement by claiming that you don’t actually hold racist views. That’s a fairly untenable position. But, by calling yourself “politically incorrect” you’re taking the offensive (so to speak). You’re just stating the truth. It’s a great way to dismiss criticism by claiming your detractors think that anything offensive must not be true simply because it’s offensive. Plus, you get to feign bravery by stating that you know you’re going to get “in trouble”, but you don’t care because you’re dedicated to the truth.

  18. 18
    OldEd

    It could very well be that women are either bored out of their minds with his bull-shit, or that they recognize it as the aforesaid bull-shit and can’t be bothered. Or both…

  1. 19
    Is Philosophy Just A Guy Thing? Not In My Classroom. (A Response To William Lane Craig)

    […] Benson also blogged about Craig’s remarks after I sent her the link to […]

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